select - Asian Cup Countries

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This January in Qatar, 16 of the best Asian soccer teams go head-to-head in the Asian Football Confederation’s Asian Cup. Oryx takes a look at the 13 participating nations on Qatar Airways routes, and profiles some of the players to watch.

 

Qatar

The AFC Asian Cup has been played every four years since 1956 (Qatar previously hosted in 1988) and is the continent’s premier football competition. This year's Cup kicks off on January 7 with a match between Qatar and Uzbekistan at Khalifa Stadium in Doha, which will also host the final on January 29. Qatar’s hosting of the Asian Cup is symbolic of the tiny country’s large international standing when it comes to premier sporting events, from the 2006 Asian Games to the Gulf Sailing Trophy, tennis tournaments, and the World Indoor Athletic Championships. But for visitors, the most apparent symbol of Qatar’s success is its luxury resorts and sprouting skyscrapers: currently there are some 50 towers under construction in Doha. The changing cityscape is best admired from the south side of Doha Bay at sunset, or from an evening cruise on a dhow. Other pastimes can be enjoyed in the excellent landscaped zoo, theme parks such as Aladdin’s Kingdom and the ice rinks 
of Winter Wonderland, and large recreational parks like Dahal al Hamam. The Gold Souq, the popular Omani Market, and many a luxury shopping mall also entice. Meanwhile, visitors can hunt down remnants of Qatari history in Doha Fort, the alleys of the traditional Souq Waqif, and the fine exhibits of the Museum of Islamic Arts, designed by renowned architect I. M. Pei. Beyond the city, the village of Umm Salal Mohammed has a historic fort and old architecture, and Khor Al Udaid has fantastic dunes for four-wheel drives and sand-boarding.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies into 
Doha from over 95 destinations worldwide.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Fábio César Montezine has impeccable football credentials. The Brazilian-born player started in the junior division at São Paulo and later played in Italy before joining local team Al-Rayyan. As a naturalised Qatari, he has played for the national team since 2008.


 


Australia

Australia is a vast country that offers the best of urban living coupled with rugged wilderness made for adventure. Sydney’s seductive beauty is showcased in its magnificent harbour and ocean beaches; Melbourne claims the best restaurants and museums in the country; while the Gold Coast is legendary for its surfing, beaches, and theme parks. In contrast, rainforest meets reef in tropical north Queensland, while the Northern Territory has national parks studded with waterfalls and ochre gorges. Other attractions include the spectacular Great Ocean Road and gold-rush era country towns of Victoria, scenic Tasmania, and the Margaret River region south of Perth, renowned for its wineries and springtime wildflowers.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Melbourne.


PLAYER TO WATCH
This might be one of the last outings for goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, now in his late thirties and notable for saving goals during penalty shootouts in international tournaments. He was nominated Footballer 
of the Year in 2010 by 
the Australian Professional Football Association.


 


Japan

Japan is a land where serene temples compete with ear-splitting karaoke bars, modern shopping malls sell ancient medicinal remedies, and old grannies can be found in pachinko pinball parlours, wrinkles alight in neon green. Most people kick off 
a visit in Tokyo, with its amazing department stores, fashion scene, and pulsating nightlife. In contrast, the ancient capital of Kyoto boasts palaces and temples, and alleys lined with venerable teahouses and inns. Japan’s hot springs, iconic Mt. Fuji, ski resorts, and beaches are other chief attractions, but escaping the crowds in this densely populated country isn’t hard: the Tohoku region features stunning national parks, unblemished coastal landscapes, and an archipelago of misty islands, while Shikoku has a tranquil pilgrim trail. The country’s most visited site is Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima which, atomic history apart, is a very pleasant city. The nearby island of Miyajima is one of Japan's most scenic. Its mid-lake torii, or shrine gate, is a Japanese icon that leads the way to an island 
of cherry and maple forest, monkeys, deer, beaches, 
and a beautiful old shrine.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to both Tokyo 
and Osaka.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Nicknamed ‘Mr. Cool’, Yasuhito Endo was the first player named seven times to the J League Best Eleven, was the AFC’s Player of the Year in 2009, and has 100 international caps. The midfielder is fabled for his free kick and penalty kick prowess.

 


Bahrain

This tiny nation is constantly growing – quite literally, with reclamation projects such as Bahrain Financial Harbour and new islands rising from the sea, and skyscrapers heading ever upwards. But not everything is new: Bahrain boasts ancient burial sites at Sar, traditional houses at Muharraq, and a 16th-century Portuguese fort. Bahrain National Museum, the country’s top attraction, highlights its cultural history, Al Fateh Mosque has informative tours on Islam and Islamic architecture, and the capital at Manama boasts a lively restaurant and nightlife scene. Shopping malls, craft centres, and Gold City (which sells jewellery and natural pearls) lure shoppers. Visitors can also enjoy desert landscapes and wildlife at Al-Areen Wildlife Park.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has six daily flights from Doha to Bahrain.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Mohamed Ahmed Youssef Salmeen, who plays for Dhafra, is the highly experienced captain of the national team, and has soccer in his blood: his father was renowned Bahraini player Ahmed Salmeen. He was nominated as part of the all-star team during the 2004 ACF Asian Cup.


 

China

Although this is the oldest continuous civilisation on Earth, the modern Chinese have their eyes on the future as the economy surges ahead. Go shopping in the ultra-modern malls of Beijing or take a trip back in time in the Forbidden City; enjoy futuristic urban landscapes and contemporary dining in Shanghai; or contemplate in peace on top of a holy mountain. It would take a lifetime to take in everything this vast country offers, but among its highlights are a clamber along the Great Wall, a river cruise along the scenic Yangtze River through the country's heartland, and the magnificent mountain scenery of Guilin, favoured as a local honeymoon destination.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Beijing four times a week, to Guangzhou five times a week, and to Shanghai daily.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Starting his career with Tianjin and becoming Chinese Young Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007, midfielder Hao Junmin now plays for Schalke in Germany. He missed the last AFC Asian Cup through illness and will be eager to make his mark.


 


Jordan

Jordan boasts an immense history, spectacular desert scenery, and friendly people. Amman, the capital, is one of the most progressive cities in the Middle East, with an energetic vibe and very hospitable inhabitants, making it a good base from which to explore the 6th-century churches at Madaba, the Crusader castle at Karak, and Jerash, one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world. Another of the country’s outstanding sights is Wadi Rum in the far south of the country, with its spectacular red desert landscape of towering cliffs. But for most, the highlight is the ruined, 6th-century desert city of Petra, one of the world’s greatest and most atmospheric archaeological sites.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Amman.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Jordan has made one previous Asian Cup appearance, and only just qualified this year. But if anyone can help the national team make a mark, it is striker Thaer Fayed Bawab, who has played in Spain and Romania and will be hungry to score goals.


 


India

India is a sub-continent where myriad peoples and civilisations have interacted over thousands of years to produce one of the world’s most fascinating societies. Highlights of the tourist circuit include the colourful desert cities of Rajasthan, the fabled Taj Mahal, Goa’s beach lifestyle, and the southern state of Kerala, the latter garnering quite a reputation for its Ayurvedic retreats and spas set among lush scenery. But equally enticing these days are India’s dynamic modern cities. Chennai is the IT capital and boasts great shopping and a vibrant arts scene; Bengaluru (Bangalore) gracefully mixes history with high-tech savvy and business buzz; and Mumbai sets urban trends in dining, nightlife, and financial acumen.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kozhikode, Mumbai, and Thiruvananthapuram.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Indian star and top defender Moirangthem Gouramangi Singh, who plays for Goa’s Churchill Brothers team, is widely admired for his tackling skills, while his height gives him the gift of some spectacular headers.


 



Kuwait

Kuwait City is a sophisticated urban oasis in the desert, boasting some of the region’s best restaurants, beach resorts, and shopping complexes. It has outstanding museums, among them Al-Hashemi Marine Museum, exquisite Islamic art at Tareq Rajab Museum, and the Scientific Centre. The latter sits on the Corniche, where parks and promenades overlook the sea and locals enjoy the evening breezes.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Kuwait.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Ahmad Ajab is the top scorer for Kuwaiti team Al-Qadsia and booted a hat-trick on his 2007 international debut. In all, he has managed 15 goals in just 14 international appearances, is Kuwait’s best-paid player, and is reckoned one of Asia’s top footballers.

 


Iran

Iran combines one of the world’s great ancient civilisations with modern oil-fuelled growth in urban centres such as Tehran. The latter not only boasts the country’s best shopping and dining but also some outstanding palaces and museums. For most visitors, however, Iran’s highlights are the desert mud-brick city of Yazd, the beautiful gardens and balmy climate of Shiraz, and the haunting ruins of ancient Persepolis from the glory years of the Persian Empire. The magnificent Islamic architecture, medieval bridges, and vast bazaars of Isfahan make it the country’s most beautiful city. But Iran’s most visited site is actually holy Mashad in the northeast, destination for some 20 million Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims annually.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Tehran daily, and to Mashad five times a week.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Iran has excellent credentials in the AFC Asian Cup, and energetic midfielder Javad Nekounam, who currently plays for Spanish team CA Osasuna and has over 100 international caps, will be looking to consolidate his record as a player to score goals at crucial moments.


 


Saudi Arabia

The sacred journey to Mecca, for Muslims, is the country's most revered experience. More recently, however, secular tourists have been discovering the slowly opening attractions of the kingdom. The laidback coastal city of Jeddah is an elegant and multicultural trading port, reflected in its fine restaurants and shops, and with some of the Red Sea’s best reefs lying just offshore. Meanwhile, Riyadh features phenomenal growth and glittering new skyscrapers, with some superb cultural attractions and museums. But Saudi Arabia’s natural assets shouldn’t be overlooked. The vast Empty Quarter hides mud-brick forts, beautiful oryx, and staggering sand dunes, while Asir National Park has marvellous mountain and coastal scenery along the Red Sea.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Dammam, Jeddah, and Riyadh.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Three-times champion in the last seven Asian Cups, Saudi Arabia has impeccable credentials. With retirement looming, defender Hussein Abdulghani Sulaimani – who plays for Swiss team Neuchâtel Xamax – will be looking to add to his 108 international caps.


 


Syria

Settled 5,000 years ago, the Syrian capital of Damascus is probably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with old streets full of Greek churches and Ottoman palaces. In the eastern desert lie the magnificent remains of Palmyra; in the west, Krak des Chevaliers, a splendid medieval castle. Aleppo is renowned for its ancient souk and lively evening dining scene.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has twice daily flights to Damascus, plus four weekly flights to Aleppo from April 6.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Syria has been part of the AFC Asian Cup tournament since 1996 and this time qualified undefeated, giving plenty of kudos to team captain Firas Al Khatib, who otherwise plays in Kuwait.


 


South Korea

South Korea packs in plenty of history coupled with a technologically advanced, modern vibe, and nowhere more so than in Seoul, where ancient palaces vie for attention with shopping malls, amusement parks, and pulsating nightlife in Gangnam district. Beyond the mega-city, the ancient capital of Gyeongju offers archaeological wonders and old Buddhist temples, including spectacular World Heritage Bulguksa Temple. But the wonders of nature are also on display in Korea, with the likes of Seoraksan National Park offering hiking in the mountains one day, and beach life the next. The honeymoon and holiday island of Jeju has spectacular sea cliffs and waterfalls, and Korea’s highest mountain, the volcanic Mt. Hallasan.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to Seoul.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Korea’s captain Park Ji-Sung is a superstar of Asian sport who played for Korean, Japanese, and Dutch teams before being signed by Manchester United in 2005. The midfielder scored goals in the last three FIFA World Cups and will surely do so again this January.


 


United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a contemporary success story that frequently garners world headlines for its fabulous real estate developments, outsize malls, skyscrapers (Burj Khalifa is now the world’s tallest), major museum developments, and superlative duty-free shopping, especially in its largest cities, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Other emirates include Sharjah, rich in traditional architecture and excellent shopping, and Fujairah, which has marvellous desert and mountain scenery. The northernmost emirate, green and fertile Ras Al Khaimah, is arguably the most beautiful, and is also well known for water sports and camel racing. One of the UAE’s more unusual sports is falconry, with falconry parties the highlight of the winter hunting season.


HOW TO GET THERE
Qatar Airways has daily flights from Doha to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.


PLAYER TO WATCH
Al Wasl striker Saeed Al Kas scored goals against Qatar and Japan in the last AFC Asian Cup and was instrumental in Al Wasl winning the Gulf Club Champions Cup in 2010, his six goals making him top scorer in the tournament.

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